When we go through what can feel like very challenging circumstances in our lives, it helps to look for something good. To have someone who can remind us that no matter how much we’re suffering, we can be loved and can love back, in spite of what feels like the endless cynical and brutal nature of the world. That no matter hard it gets, you can breathe through the pain and lean on the people you love until it gets easier, and you can get through it.
This is the message that author Jessica Park explores in her incredible romance novel, Left Drowning. In this beautifully written, emotional story, Park has crafted a journey of grief, second chances, survival and love that gives hope to her readers.
Not only is Park a great storyteller, but she is also a New York Times bestselling author after her book Flat-Out Love took the accolade. Park is also a huge proponent of self-publishing, and talks to aspiring writers who are thinking about going down that route about the pros and cons of doing so to ease their fears.
In an exclusive interview, Park opened up about her writing and all things Left Drowning.
Q: How did you come up with the story for Left Drowning?
JP: This is always a scary question for me to answer because…I don’t really know! Somehow, I came up with the line, “You are the great love of my life that I’m never going to have,” and stuck with me so hard that I essentially built a story around that, working backward and forward from that moment. I could see the scene in my mind, and so I had to figure out what led to that moment and what would happen after.
I also knew that wanted to address a number of issues and write a very psychologically smart story that delved into trauma and healing. I studied psychology in college and grew up with a father who was a skilled psychotherapist, so I was driven to incorporate my knowledge into the story/characters in a way that was analytical but also respectful. And mostly, I wanted to convey the idea that trauma does not leave one “damaged” and unlovable. That there is healing, and life, and love ready for the taking.
To this day—and likely forever—this book has the most complex web of intersecting storylines…and I don’t know where I came from mostly, ha ha!
What does it take to rise from life’s depths, swim against the current, and breathe?
Weighted down by the loss of her parents, Blythe McGuire struggles to keep her head above water as she trudges through her last year at Matthews College. Then a chance meeting sends Blythe crashing into something she doesn’t expect—an undeniable attraction to a dark-haired senior named Chris Shepherd, whose past may be even more complicated than her own.
As their relationship deepens, Chris pulls Blythe out of the stupor she’s been in since the night a fire took half her family. She begins to heal, and even, haltingly, to love this guy who helps her find new paths to pleasure and self-discovery. But as Blythe moves into calmer waters, she realizes Chris is the one still strangled by his family’s traumatic history. As dark currents threaten to pull him under, Blythe may be the only person who can keep him from drowning.
Q: Left Drowning has been described as an emotional rollercoaster, did you plan it that way or did the ideas for the plot come to you as you were writing it?
JP: Oh, it was totally planned out in great detail before I started writing. I don’t think I could have pulled it together without such an intense outline. That’s actually how I write all of my books. I want to know how a story arc ends because that deeply affects earlier parts of the book. Knowledge of a character’s progression let’s me seep hints of that into scenes in ways that sometimes I don’t even realize until later. It’s always possible to go back and add in lines or whatnot, but when it comes organically because I know where I’m headed, I think it’s more effective.
I’m not a wing-it girl!
Q: Reading your novel, I felt like there were a lot of empowering messages about how you have to deal with the pain and tough parts of life head on, learn how to process them and breathe through them. Otherwise, you’ll always be stuck in the past and looking backwards. And you have to let the people you love and who love you help you do that without pushing them away. Was this deliberate?
JP: You’re spot on. I’m always interested in writing about the support and influence even a single relationship can have on someone. It just takes one person to make a difference, sometimes. Shutting yourself off from the past, denying pain and trauma? That will never let you move forward and find true happiness, connections, etc.
Q: Did you feel you related to any particular characters in Left Drowning?
JP: While the characters’ stories in Left Drowning are not my experiences at all, I’m sure parts of me come through in all the characters in the sense that I “become” that character when I’m writing lines and scenes. My heart, my sympathy, my passion for what they go through, and my desire for readers to feel a connection is then filtered into the manuscript. Bits of some characters are based on actual people in my life, but… I’ll never tell you who!
Q: Are you working on any new stories or have anything coming up in the pipeline?
JP: I am! It’s been a long road with a bunch of setbacks (including this @#$%! Pandemic!), but I have a book that I’m working on! I can’t say much about it, but it’s set in small-town Vermont with a very fun set of quirky characters.
I think of it as a bit of a “quieter” story in the sense that there’s not as much intense drama like we see in Left Drowning. But, I really appreciate how meaningful stories can be without having some kind of catastrophic event. And especially given how tumultuous things have been in recent years, a focus on character development, healthy romance, and humor is what I need to write these days.
Although, I’m me. So there will still be some heartache, because I *do* love writing about pain!
Grab your own copy of Left Drowning here!